A senior French military officer has been charged with espionage for allegedly passing top secret documents to Russian intelligence, Florence Parly, the defence minister, said on Sunday.
SOURCE: THE TELEGRAPH
The lieutenant-colonel, who has not been named, is stationed at a NATO base in Italy. He was detained by France’s General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), the equivalent of MI5, 10 days ago.
The officer was about to return to Italy after a holiday in France, Europe 1 radio reported, and is being held at La Santé prison in Paris.
Ms Parly said the defence ministry had referred the case to public prosecutors. She declined to give details about the nature of the information allegedly given to Russia, saying the matter was sub judice.
“We have taken all necessary measures. Now justice must be allowed to take its course while respecting the secrecy of the investigation… It is for the judicial system to decide what he is guilty of and whether he is guilty.”
If convicted, the officer risks life imprisonment and a €750,000 (£669,000) fine. The case is likely to embarrass France in the eyes of its western allies if security failings that could potentially compromise NATO are revealed.
It comes after two former agents of France’s external intelligence service, the DGSE, were handed prison sentences of 12 and 8 years last month for spying for China.
The highly sensitive trial was held behind closed doors and little is known about the case against the agents, who had already retired when they were charged three years ago.
One of them, named as Henri M, served as the DGSE’s Beijing station chief in the 1990s. He was recalled after starting an affair with the French ambassador’s Chinese interpreter.
After his retirement, he returned to China in 2003 and married the former interpreter. The couple took up residence on Hainan Island, off China’s southern coast.
Now 73, he was arrested in France in 2017. Around the same time the other agent, named as Pierre-Marie H, 68, was arrested at Zurich airport carrying a large amount of cash after meeting a Chinese contact on an island in the Indian Ocean.
Under French law, the full names of former intelligence agents may not be made public.